As part of our preparations for an assembly at our school where National Geographic photographer Cory Richards was going to speak, we prepared photography projects with our students to present to him. The purpose of these projects was not only to introduce students to the art of photography, but also to work on the use of figurative language and build self-esteem and self-concept. If you are interested in implementing this project with your students, I have included the directions in this post.
Objective: Create a photography project that describes how students see themselves, and how others see them.
- Cameras/Phones/iPads for students to share (my kids did this project completely with their phones)
- Black cardstock to mount photos
- Large white poster paper
- Black Sharpies
- Silver Sharpies
- White gel pens
- Mounting squares or glue sticks
To begin this project, we started by discussing adjectives. We brainstormed a list of adjectives that could be used to describe people. Both character traits, as well as physical traits, were described.
How Students See Themselves
Next, we moved into having students reflect on how they saw themselves. I asked them to think about the following questions and do a quick write:
Think about how you see yourself. What are you most proud of? What would you like to work on? What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Write 5-10 sentences about how you see yourself. For example: I see myself as a driven student, always willing to go the extra mile.
I supported their writing by providing the following sentence frames:
I see myself as ____(adj)_____ because _____________.
I am _____(adj) ________ when I _____________.
When I ___________ I am _______(adj)________.
I am as _____(adj) _____ as a ______ when I __________.
How Students See Their Classmates
The next part of the project involved students reflecting on how they saw their classmates. This task can be a little tricky, as we don’t want any hurt feelings, but with a good discussion about this beforehand, you should be able to avoid that. I gave the students the following questions to think about:
Think about your classmates, how do you see them? It’s important to share with your classmates how we see them, because someone may see something in you that you had never thought of before. What do you admire about your classmates? What do you think they are good at? What character traits do you see in them?
I then had each student put a blank piece of paper out on their desk, and we participated in a Gallery Walk to visit each desk for about 30 seconds. While they were at each student’s desk, they wrote down an adjective or two that described that person. I had the list of adjectives that we had brainstormed together up on the board for them to reference. Before they got back to their own desk, I had one student gather all the papers so the kids couldn’t see what had been written yet (I wanted to make sure there was nothing negative). You could give students those papers back, or, I typed up a slip of paper with all of the adjectives that were used about each student on it so it was easier to read. I found this activity to be extremely empowering for the students. They all kept the slips of paper in a safe place, and some even carried them with them for many days after. I would often see them pulling them out to look at them. Major self-esteem booster! This whole process took about two days to complete during a 30-minute block.
Now that students had their own perspective and that of their classmates, we moved into writing poetry that would eventually accompany their photos on their finished project. For this poem, we focused on figurative language and using similes and metaphors. After teaching about these two literary devices, I had students work on writing their poem. I encouraged them to create two stanzas, with at least two examples in each stanza. The first stanza being their perspective of themselves, and the second the perspective of their classmates. For those students needed a little extra language support I provided the following sentence frames.
I see myself as _____(adj)________ as a __________________.
I am a ________________________,
Others see me as a _______________________,
Others see me as ________(adj)__________ as a ________________________,
I am a scholar,
Learning and teaching those around me every day.
I see myself as an owl,
Silently sitting back and watching from afar sometimes afraid to put myself out there.
Others see me as a leader,
Inspiring those around me to try new things and push the boundaries.
Yet others say I am as busy as a bee,
Working tirelessly for others and getting little rest.
The next day, we introduced the basics of photography and looked at a variety of different photos to determine what the photographer may have been trying to convey in their photographs.
We then discussed the vocabulary word of perspective: a point of view or way of looking at a situation. I found a variety of professional photos that were taken from different perspectives and asked students to observe what they noticed about the photos. How does the message change when the perspective is changed? We discussed the following three perspectives that are often used when taking photos to add to the composition of the photo.
Bird’s Eye View: a picture taken from up above the subject
Dog’s View: a picture taken from the level of the subject
Snake’s View: a picture taken lower than the subject
Since this project doubled as an ELD unit as well, we also discussed prepositions. In our class we specifically focused on over, under, around and through. We demonstrated each of these prepositions using TPR (Total Physical Response) and then I challenged the kids to think about how they could find an object to frame their subject and add another dimension to their photo.
Taking the Photos
After a day of learning about perspective and photography, I let students actually begin taking pictures. Each student used what they had written in their poem to try and pose for a picture that showcased that description. The goal was to end with two different pictures that embodied these two different perspectives. For example, maybe a student thinks of themselves as shy and quiet, so they take a picture of themselves almost hiding behind a tree. However, maybe they found out their classmates actually look up to them as a silent leader, so their second picture shows them standing tall and confident on top of the jungle gym. Students should pair up to take pictures of each other and you should encourage them to take as many pictures as needed so they can later choose the best one.
As far as actually taking the pictures, I decided to utilize the tools that my students already had. I allowed students to use their own cell phones or the school iPads. The cameras on these devices are quite excellent and they are able to do all of the editing right on their device. Once they had chosen the pictures they wanted, I had them work on editing them and changing them to black and white. If you wanted to get more complex, students could explore the other editing settings and work with the light and composition of their photos.
When they had finished editing their photos, I simply had them AirDrop or email me their pictures. I compiled all of them and sent them off to Costco to be printed. They have a nice option where you can get a thin white border around the outside which made the pictures look professional. I was completely impressed with the quality of pictures that the students took with their phones and how the printed versions worked out.
Once the pictures had been printed and the students had a rough draft of their poems that had been edited, we worked to complete the final project. We used nice white poster board as our background and black cardstock (purchase here) as a matte to mount our photos. I allowed the students to creatively place their pictures and decide where they wanted to write their poem. To keep some consistency, I told them they could use black or silver Sharpie (purchase here) to write their title, but that their poem needed to be written in black Sharpie (purchase here). In my class, we wrote our poem in pencil first, then traced over it with the black Sharpie and then went back and erased the pencil AFTER the black was dried. Another fun touch is to use white gel pens (purchase here) to outline specific details on the picture or to write a line from their poem on the photo itself for emphasis. This is where your students can get creative.
Be sure to find a place to display these so that as many people in your school can read them as possible. At our school parents, teachers and students are constantly stopping to read them and discover new things about our students that they didn’t know before. This activity is an amazingly engaging activity to incorporate language development, writing, figurative language, photography and a lesson on self-esteem. Please let me know if you have any questions about implementing this project in your school.